In a prior article, we reported that last December, administrative rules were finalized that wrought significant increases in fees charged by the Department of Transportation, Harbors Division.

Those fees increased 17 percent beginning on Feb. 1, 2017; they will increase another 15 percent on Oct. 1, 2017; they will increase another 15 percent on July 1, 2018; and they will increase on July 1 of each year thereafter, by either 3 percent or the consumer price index rate, whichever is higher.

We now know that the Harbors Division isn’t satisfied with those three years of triple-digit increases. In draft rules presented to and approved by the Hawaii Small Business Regulatory Review Board just last month, the Harbors Division wants to hike dockage and port entry fees by 20 percent effective July 1, 2019; another 15 percent effective July 1, 2020; and another 15 percent effective July 1, 2021.

And, if that isn’t enough, cruise passenger fees will be doubled in Honolulu Harbor effective July 1, 2018, and slightly increased in all other harbors.

Sause Brothers Tug boat Miki Hana Honolulu Harbor1. 23 may 2016

The Sause Brothers tugboat Miki Hana in Honolulu Harbor, May 2016. The DOT’s Harbors Division is again seeking to increase dockage and port entry fees, something the author calls unreasonable.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Probably the most shocking part of the presentation, however, is the division’s analysis on how these rate increases impact small business.

The division says that of the 99 harbor users in the past two years, eight meet the definition of a small business. Seven of them turn around and pass the costs on to another party. The eighth was a one-time customer and can be disregarded as an outlier.

Therefore, the division concludes, there is no impact to Hawaii’s small businesses.

Let’s Get Real

Then the division goes on: “Given our analysis,” they say, “we conclude that these proposed amendments do not affect Hawaii’s small businesses and there is no ‘potential or actual requirement imposed upon a small business … that will cause a direct and significant economic burden upon a small business….’”

(I swear I am not making this up.)

Let’s get real, people!

Most of the goods that we need and buy come here by boat. Buyers include individuals, big businesses, and small businesses. Shippers who operate the boats will of course pass the costs on to retailers who sell the goods, who then will pass those costs on to people who buy the goods.

In addition, the price increases will require more general excise tax to be paid, by the shippers, the middlemen, and the retailers. Those taxes too will be passed on to the end users.

Are we seeing a vicious cycle here?

Most of the goods that we need and buy come here by boat.

The mentality that leads to these proposed rate hikes, as it was explained to the SBRRB, goes something like this. We (the Harbors Division of DOT) are doing a harbor modernization project. It will cost $450 million. We are supposed to be self-sufficient (namely that we aren’t supposed to get any general fund money to pay for this project).

Therefore, we need to raise fees to pay for the project. The applicable statutes (Hawaii Revised Statutes sections 266-2 and 266-17) give us the authority to set these fees, so we are using that authority.

There apparently was some spirited discussion at the SBRRB’s August meeting regarding the proposed rules. One member said that the fees will be passed onto the small businesses. DOT replied that it’s difficult to determine how much would trickle down to small businesses, and it’s difficult to determine the impact on small business.

(So they didn’t bother; nor did they examine less burdensome alternatives, consult with small businesses, and so on.)

Another member wanted to know if the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism economists could estimate the economic impact. Staff said they would get back to him. (Wonder if they ever did.)

Ultimately, the SBRRB passed the rules out for public hearing, moving them closer to becoming reality.

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